The first three witnesses in the case of Daniel Cierzan — the Saugus resident accused of murdering his uncle in 2017 — took the stand in a preliminary hearing Tuesday, seeking to provide further insight into a night that has been mired in mystery for more than four years.
Testifying in a San Fernando courtroom with Judge David Walgren presiding, the prosecution’s witnesses discussed cellphone records, a timeline of events and blood splatter.
Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef of the Major Crimes Division focused her questions on the argument that the nephew of William Cierzan likely had been the last one to see his uncle alive, and that blood splatter inside various parts of the Cierzan house on Cuatro Milpas Street and vehicle indicate an impact wound was made to the victim at the residence.
In response, defense attorneys Andrew Flier and Jeremy Babich challenged the accuracy of the cellphone-tracking technology testified to by one of Mokayef’s expert witnesses and questioned what motive exists for Daniel to kill his uncle.
In the first testimony of the case, Shawn Dishman, an expert in call-pattern analysis and geolocation, explained that investigators had asked him to dig through the incoming and outgoing calls made by three phones: one owned by William, one owned by his brother and one owned by his nephew Daniel.
The call records indicate, Dishman said, that Daniel’s phone had not been at the Cuatro Milpas Street house on Jan. 26, but rather had been at his own home on Plum Canyon Road.
During cross-examination, Dishman said the best the technology could do in terms of geolocation was 150-200 meters in ideal conditions. Flier confirmed with him that this meant the technology could not confirm if someone was in a specific house or business.
However, the records do show, according to Dishman, that Daniel had placed a call to his uncle on the morning of Jan. 26, 2017, roughly two hours after the victim’s wife left for work.
The night of
Linda Cierzan testified she left her husband that morning by kissing him on the forehead while he was still sleeping in bed, leaving her house around 7:30 a.m. They would have their regular communication through the day while she was at work, and on the final call with her husband, he said he’d be making dinner.
When she arrived home “a little bit after” 7 p.m., the front door to her home was unlocked but closed and the dinner her husband said he would make was nearly complete in the kitchen. But he was nowhere to be found. His keys, wallet and cellphone were still at the residence.
She called Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station multiple times that night, but her husband was not with them. She also called her nephew, she said.
“I knew that Daniel was there earlier in the day and I thought he might know where Will was or maybe Will was over at their house,” said Linda Cierzan, adding that her nephew and husband were close. She later added, “He said he’d been there earlier in the day but had left, I think, around 1 o’clock or something.”
She testified that she began to doubt Daniel Cierzan’s story when a neighbor showed her video footage with a time stamp showing someone whom she believes was her nephew pull up to her house around 5 p.m., go inside, and then come back out some time later.
The third witness of the day, Tom Bevel, a blood-splatter expert, indicated his belief that photos taken by investigators showed blood splatter throughout the home. He also said blood splatter — found in a room of the house Linda Cierzan said was where Will spent much of his time watching sports and working on his computer — was consistent with both blood transfer or some kind of impact.
He also noted that blood was found in the white Toyota 4Runner believed by Linda Cierzan to have been driven by her nephew when he pulled up to the home at around 5 p.m.
The defense wasn’t able to cross-examine Bevel Tuesday due to time constraints, but Flier said he would be on the attack first thing Wednesday.
“What the government is saying … is that the crime scene has to be in the computer room, but I would have expected a lot more blood evidence,” said Flier.
Earlier in the day, Linda Cierzan said she searched the whole house the night of her husband’s disappearance and found no blood. Mokayef asked Bevel if the small amount of blood found later by law enforcement crime scene technicians could indicate some kind of “clean-up” occurred after the initial attack, to which he responded in the affirmative.
“They’re just trying to show where they believe the crime scene is … and clearly they’re saying the last person to be with him was my client,” said Flier. “But they have no motive and they have no witnesses.”
The preliminary hearing is set to resume on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge is expected to rule whether there is sufficient evidence for Daniel Cierzan to stand trial for murder.